In the Kitchen with Chef John Robertson

By:Gwen Fowler

Date:8/22/2014

Charleston john robertson
Chef John Robertson at Kitchen 208 in Charleston.

Kitchen 208 opened on King Street in Charleston in early summer of 2013, and Chef John Robertson was promoted to chef there at the beginning of 2014.

Robertson was working at Circa 1886, a sister restaurant, before joining the team to open Kitchen 208.

He spent 12 years working in the tech world before he decided to turn his passion for cooking into a career. He took classes at Secchia Institute for Culinary Education in Grand Rapids, Mich., before working at The Union in Kalamazoo, Mich., and then becoming executive chef of Martell’s Tavern on the Green in Coldwater, Mich.

Kitchen 208 offers breakfast, lunch and brunch indoors or on the patio during pleasant weather.

“We are a casual, quick service restaurant focusing on fresh ingredients,” Robertson said. “We utilize locally grown products whenever possible.”

The restaurant will be one of 10 participating in Bacon and Bourbon on Saturday, Feb. 8. Each chef will serve a bacon-centered dish, and 18 distilleries will serve bourbon. Robertson plans to feature a bacon waffle with candied bacon.

Q: What or who inspired you to become a chef?
A:
My father. He had no formal training and had never seen a production kitchen, but much of what he taught me as a young child I still utilize to this day. Shortly after he passed was when I decided to trade my cubicle for a kitchen.

Q: What are you cooking these days that excites you the most?
A:
I'm loving all the Southern ingredients. We play a lot with pickling and preserving. The smoker at Kitchen 208 is a tool that I haven't been able to utilize much in past kitchens, so experimenting and learning the nuances of the smoking process has been very interesting.

Q: If there were one item on your menu that you wished everyone reading could try, what would it be?
A:
The Cobblestone (here’s the recipe) really a great example of how a just a few simple ingredients can come together to create something dynamic. Our daily features are a great way to experience the restaurant as well. We offer some really creative sandwiches, soups and brunch specials (like last weekend’s The King - French Toast stuffed with Peanut Butter Mascarpone + Bacon and topped with Caramelized Bananas). Burger Thursday is a great day to visit Kitchen 208, as well. We offer up an Angus Beef Burger with different toppings each week. We post our daily specials on Facebook and Twitter.

Q: What is the most embarrassing thing you have ever done in a restaurant kitchen?
A:
Not much I will admit to, or remember. I've been guilty of many of the novice mistakes over the years -- spending hours perfecting a stock only to strain it down the drain. I don't have a good answer for this one…

Q: Is there a food you simply refuse to eat?
A:
I haven't found anything yet that I wouldn't try, and I've eaten some strange things. If I had to pick one, canned pasta (like spaghetti-o's). Horrible smell and texture.

Q: What are your guilty (food) pleasures?
A:
Ramen noodles. Doctored up with frozen veggies, random refrigerator leftovers, and a raw egg on top.

Q: What’s the best tip you can give a home cook?
A:
Have fun cooking. Don't get caught up in following a recipe from a book or TV. Use it as inspiration and take it where you want it to go. Taste, experiment, substitute ingredients.

Q: Do you have a favorite cookbook?
A:
I've been picking up a lot of Southern food cookbooks lately, but I don't really have a favorite.

Q: If you were not a chef, what would you be doing?
A:
I would likely still be in the IT field, sitting in a cubicle, staring at computer screens all day. I honestly can't imagine myself being anything other than a chef at this point.

Q: If you could cook with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?
A:
I relish every opportunity to cook with someone new. I'm always seeking out opportunities to learn. But, if I had the chance to cook alongside anyone, it would be my father. He instilled a love of food and cooking in me, but never had an opportunity to see what it has grown in to.

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